5 Signs That Your Child is Struggling to Read

For many parents, there is nothing quite like snuggling up with your children and a good book and traveling off into an imaginary world of awe and wonder. Reading to our children not only fosters a love of reading, but it has been proven to give children a higher aptitude for learning in general. Sometimes, however, children can develop reading disabilities that rob them of the joy of reading they once had, and if the markers of their struggle to read go unnoticed, the child is at risk of falling far behind. Being able to recognize the signs of reading deficiencies early can make a huge difference by getting your child the help they need. Because early intervention is key to a child’s success in overcoming such difficulties, we have listed for you some of the most common signs of a child’s struggle to read.

Mixing Up Letters or Sounds


Sure, most toddlers are going to mix up sounds when learning new vocabulary… who hasn’t heard “pisketti” in reference to spaghetti? But if this problem persists into the preschool and elementary years and involves a number of words, it could indicate a problem with reading. Though a very common developmental step when learning to write, confusing letters that look alike (for example, b/d and p/q) can also be a subtle sign of a reading issue when this continues for years. Some children with these symptoms also have trouble separating the sounds that letter blends make from a whole word. For example, a child might recognize c-a-t as “cat,” but wouldn’t understand that b-a-t follows the same sound pattern to say “bat.” Oftentimes, children suffering from dyslexia have a hard time with recognizing or matching rhyming sounds. Also, because reading is tied so closely to spoken language, speech impediments can signal a potential for reading difficulties, so it is a good idea to monitor your child’s reading progress closely if he has any speech delays.

An Aversion to Reading


When a child who once eagerly brought book after book to your lap all of a sudden starts proclaiming that he hates to read, your radar should perk up. Some time during third or fourth grade, students go from learning to read to reading to learn, and this transition isn’t always an easy one for all kids. Textbooks are often written above the grade level of the students who are using them, compounding any reading difficulties that are present; this is especially true in the middle school grades.  A child who starts to despise reading of any kind may very well be frustrated because he cannot understand what he is reading, and it makes him feel unintelligent. It is not uncommon for students to manage to hide a reading disability well past the elementary years by relying on auditory instruction and prior knowledge alone. For middle-school-aged kids, a strong hostility toward school, paired with anxiety or insecurity that seems to have come out of nowhere, could mean that your kid is silently fighting to understand what he’s reading. At this age, reading deficiencies usually coincide with difficulties in learning and understanding mathematics.

Problems Reading Aloud


Punctuation in written language gives us clues when we read as to intonation and tone. Children who are suffering from reading deficiencies do not take cues from punctuation and often run right through periods and commas, and they ignore quotation marks altogether. Children who are struggling to comprehend what they’re reading might be able to pronounce even fairly difficult words, but they typically read in a monotone at a slow speed. So much of these children’s energy is spent decoding the words — pronouncing them — that they are not processing any meaning from the words.  Because these children are not discerning meaning from the text, they cannot summarize what they’ve just read, and cannot pick out main ideas from the text. Other indicators can be skipping lines of text, losing one’s place while reading, or repeating lines that have already been read without realizing they’re repeating them. It may even appear to the child that the letters and words in the text are physically moving on the page while they are trying to read. These symptoms can point to dyslexia or an eye-tracking problem.

Behavioral Problems


Imagine how demoralizing illiteracy must be for a child, especially if she once read with ease. Struggling readers can be seen as daydreamers who are disorganized or unfocused, and as such can be labeled as troublemakers. Often, these children cannot remember multiple-step instructions, or need frequent reminders throughout an activity in order to complete it. The stress of not being able to keep up may manifest as an easily frustrated child who is driven to highly emotional responses. The fear of failure and frustration can cause severe anxiety in regard to reading, which can result in what appears to be defiance and disobedience, especially when the child is asked to read out loud. If your child is increasingly distracted, disorganized, anxious, or impulsive, these behaviors can be symptomatic of a struggle to read proficiently.

Confuses Sequence of Events


Sometimes reading difficulties stem from a hiccup in processing the information rather than from decoding it. If your child seems to have trouble remembering the days of the week or months of the year in order, or if she has trouble alphabetizing or arranging events in sequential order, there may be something more going on under the surface. Reading comprehension is essential for learning, and when a child is not able to keep information organized in his mind, it can muddy the meaning of what has been read. Children who are not able to accurately retell events verbally could be mixing up the details of what they’ve read, too.

What Can You Do?


No one knows your child like you do. We have only listed a small handful of indicators of reading deficiencies here, and every child is so different that it’s possible that a kid could not show any outward signs of a struggle to read, but may indeed be in need of help. If you suspect that your child is having trouble with reading, the first step is to partner with her teacher. The teacher should be able to gauge how your child is doing comparatively to the others in the class, and she should also be trained to recognize signs of trouble or obstacles to learning. Another good starting point is your child’s doctor; getting regular hearing and vision screenings can catch any physical problems that would inhibit reading ability. If a problem is discovered, you can ask your school to evaluate your child, which would mean that a specialist could work toward an exact diagnosis of the issue working against your child’s ability to read.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that any child who is officially diagnosed with a learning disability shall receive special school services for free; there are even grants in many states that provide these services to students in private schools through the public education system.

The earlier these roadblocks to reading are caught, and the sooner intervention occurs, the more likely that your child will overcome them.

Starting to read young is so incredibly important! Please check out our post on Early Literacy and the Importance of Reading to Young Children.

Sources: Reading Rockets: Recognizing Reading Problems | Reading Rockets: Seeking Help for a Struggling Reader: 8 Steps for Parents | DAS International: Symptoms of Specific Learning Disabilities

Photo credits:  Ashley Wells, Stephanie, JessicaN, Mojitos & Munchkins

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Cindy Haley

Cindy is the mom to Wyatt, the wife of Jason, and a lover of Jesus. She teaches middle-school English in a tiny town in northeastern Oklahoma, and has a long list of hobbies, including photography, reading, cooking, and gardening.

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